ELECTION '12//DEMOCRATS | The blessing of the local Democratic Party is an important tool for any campaign, not only for the seal of approval it bestows, but access to the party's purse strings and significant electoral amenities. This weekend, comments by various party committee members, made during the deliberations for a slew of Alameda County races provided telling insights into how they voted and why they chose against offering endorsements. Here are five particular races where party insiders gave clues to how the final outcome may rest:
FREMONT MAYOR Councilmembers Anu Natarajan and Bill Harrison are waging a potentially divisive campaign for the city and party to replace Mayor Bob Wasserman, who died late last year. The race has been run respectfully thus far, at least, in the public realm. Both Natarajan and Harrison are well-respected in Fremont and some equate their qualifications and relatively star power as a small town equivalent of Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton in 2008. The Democratic Party went with Harrison last weekend, but the vast majority of the comments made by committee members showed apprehension and caution. Most surrounds an affinity for Fremont to elect an Indian American mayor, who also happens to be female. There also appears to be a significant bloc that fears an electoral scenario where the two Democrats fracture the vote and provide an opening for former Councilman Steven Cho, a Republican, to walk into the mayor's office. It's not clear, however, if such a opportunity is realistic in blue Fremont and whether it's merely a red herring. To quell the potential divide-and-conquer scenario, at one point, last weekend, there was discussion of offering a no-endorsement as an expression of Natarajan and Harrison's appeal, but that later fizzled.
OAKLAND AT-LARGE If the verbal battle between candidates for the Berkeley Rent Review Board presented the day's highest proportion of fireworks, the interview session for competing Oakland Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Ignacio De La Fuente was second, according to about 10 committee members, who one-by-one alerted me to it by saying, "Oh, you missed it!" During the interview, Kaplan again hammered De La Fuente over police layoffs and highlighted with a biting reference to Mitt Romney. Like every public forum The Citizen has covered featuring De La Fuente, the raspy-voiced Fruitvale councilmember has made a beeline for the door at its conclusion. Committee members almost unanimously backed Kaplan as a few voters faulted De La Fuente for expending the party's resources for the at-large seat when he already possesses one in District 5. Another groused, if De La Fuente wins the seat, he will likely become a bulwark against another sitting Democrat in 2014, Mayor Jean Quan. For a newly-minted, committee member (De La Fuente, received the most votes last June) he is not very popular among his colleagues and most said they don't expect him to attend many monthly meetings in the future. At one point, Robin Torello, the chair of the Alameda County Democratic Party, called on committee member Mario Juarez to speak, but mistakenly called him, "Ignacio." The jocular Juarez, who is no friend of De La Fuente and is running for his old District 5 seat this November, laughed and said, "What?!! I'm better looking than him."
OAKLAND DISTRICT 3 Of the dozens of races on the agenda last Saturday, none were more deadlocked than Oakland City Council District 3. None of the three Democrats came close to even 50 percent of the vote, let alone the required 60 percent for endorsement. Nyeisha DeWitt received 13 votes; Sean Sullivan 9; Derrick Muhammad 6. Many members, however, referenced DeWitt's unique background story of a high school drop out who ultimately went to college and earned a graduate's degree. To nearly the same degree, Sullivan's work with the youth and poor at Covenant House also gained plaudits and Muhammad's strong ties to labor made up the rest of the vote. However, it was Muhammad's stunning and controversial two-page mailer that was making the rounds around Democratic Party headquarters in Oakland. Like DeWitt, Muhammad's back story is also compelling. His brother was killed earlier last decade in West Oakland and his candidacy is based, in part, to helping stop similar violence from occurring again. The mailer, when opened, features a large, glossy and watery bright pool of blood to signify the loss of life in Oakland. It is destined to be the boldest mailer this election season and certainly the most disgusting. Suffice to say, many committee members were speechless when the mailer was quietly passed around the room.
SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 2,4 Oftentimes, San Leandro politics gets short shifted in the grand scheme of Alameda County, however, the three races for City Council elicited some heated exchanges between committee members who reside in the city. Like Oakland's District 3, San Leandro's District 4 was also tangled in uncertainty. In this case, with a whiff of disappointment over their choices. Chris Crow received 12 votes; Benny Lee 11 and 6 members voted for a no-endorsement. A pro-Crow member accused Lee of flip-flopping on his stance on medical marijuana, although three other members, including one from the initial screening committee, disputed the assertion. The narrative of Crow being too green for the job, but a future prospect nonetheless was also mentioned until chair Robin Torello and former San Leandro Councilwoman Linda Perry warned Crow's strong connections to the anti-worker cabal in the city, led by Mayor Stephen Cassidy, was a major concern. Other members, though, appeared underwhelmed by Lee's lackluster performance. In District 2, Councilwoman Ursula Reed easily won the party's endorsement over San Leandro school trustee Morgan Mack-Rose, but with less than enthusiastic qualifications. Like a champion boxer, who must be overwhelmingly defeated by the opponent to lose their title, Torello told committee members Reed has done nothing to lose their party's past support and without any discussion, they agreed.